Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales

By P.D. James. (Alfred A. Knopf, 194 pages, $21.)

 

Looking for a holiday stocking stuffer for a mystery lover? Check out this petite volume from the late British crime master P.D. James. The newly collected short stories all have her familiar twists and turns, tales of English privilege and cunning attitude woven deftly into the human condition.

As with her longer mysteries, the tales go well beyond solving the crime, delving instead into what drove the characters to these dastardly deeds and how the consequences played out afterward. In this way, James writes more as psychologist than forensic investigator.

One story is an elderly man’s recollections of a childhood incident, a memory spurred by finding a yo-yo in a storage box. He flashes back to a dark night on a winding coastal highway, where he improvised a lie and protected a man’s secret forever. It’s delicious and smart.

Another (in the spirit of St. Nick) is titled “The Murder of Santa Claus.” A third deals with an ugly divorce that delivers a surprising outcome. And if you thrive on greedy relatives fighting over a sizable inheritance even before the old man is gone, “A Very Desirable Residence” will be your cup of tea.

British to the core, Baroness James wears her bestowed crown as “Queen of Crime” even posthumously. The author died in 2014 at age 94 after writing 21 books, many of which were made into films. This fun collection is just training wheels for the meaty stuff.

Ginny Greene

 

Artemis

By Andy Weir. (Crown, 320 pages, $27.)

 

Andy Weir’s 2014 debut, “The Martian,” was a smash hit that was made into a hit movie, so the follow-up has been eagerly awaited. “Artemis” has a few echoes of “The Martian” — a witty main character, a non-Earth setting and an intricate plan chock-full of science — but it’s a combination of caper story and murder mystery.

Jazz Bashara, a small-time smuggler in the moon colony of Artemis, is asked by the local billionaire to do a little industrial sabotage. Watching her work the angles, we learn the workings of the moon colony. She’s a great character, irreverent and cocky. When the bodies start turning up, she goes on the run, which is hard to do in an enclosed colony surrounded by moonscape.

Weir’s second book totally delivers on the promise of the first.

Salem Macknee, Raleigh News & Observer